Perseverance key to Indian-Americans' success: Spelling Bee organisers

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington:
  • Updated: May 27, 2015 08:49 IST

As the annual spelling contest gets underway, organisers have for the first time tried to address an issue that has troubled some Americans: complete domination by Indian-Americans.

Though not exactly sure about attributing it to any one factor, Paige Kimble, longtime director of Spelling Bee, believes it might be their “perseverance”, ability to hang in there.

Bee 2015 started here just outside DC on Tuesday.

Indian-Americans have not only won the Bee for seven years running now — and 10 in last 13 years — they have also tended to dominate the final few rounds.

Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe won jointly in 2014.

While President Barack Obama tweeted out a congratulatory message to them, some of the other responses on social media were unpleasant, hostile and plainly racist. “Nothing more American than a good spelling bee.. Oh wait all the Caucasians are eliminated.”

“The kids in the spelling bee should only be AMERICAN”

Kimble, a former Bee winner herself, told the Washington Post, the responses were “not nice, that indicate that we have a long way to go as a country in embracing all of our immigrant population.”

The Bee has been asked about this extraordinary run by Indian-Americans several times. “The championship belongs to those who are willing to work the hardest,” Paige told Hindustan Times in 2013, adding, “what we see is a will to work very hard to reach the highest level of this programme.”

Last year’s hostile reaction, however, compelled the organisers to address the issue more forcefully than ever before. “How hard a child works is a very individual factor,” Kimble told the Post.“But what might be happening (with Indian-American contestants) is that there might be perseverance for the National Spelling Bee goal over a longer period of time.”

They keep returning, getting better and more confident every time — only one of them, Pratyush Buddiga, won on his first attempt, in 2002. He is now a professional poker player.

Hard work and perseverance has paid off, evidently, with a little help from a highly effective support structure built around coaching by organisations such as North South Foundation. This non-profit offers lessons and coaching material to students from the community, and prepares them for the Bee through parallel contests.

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